Editorial Articles, Writing/Articles

Digital Artists You Absolutely Need To Follow! – Part 2

Image created with canva.con

CLICK HERE to see Part 1!

Welcome back readers! If anyone remembers back to about a year ago actually, I posted a rather lengthy article on a list of digital artists that I think anyone who loves to look at art should absolutely follow; anyone from video game concept artists to professional illustrators to graphic designers and even tattoo artists, I made sure the list had some variety besides just some of my favorites who create amazing fanart commissions of my favorite books and series.

Well if it’s been a year later since then, it makes total sense that I’ve discovered even MORE artists that I want to showcase and organize into a beautifully displayed part 2 to my list. Art matters, and this new addition of artists also have quite a plethora of talent. I’ve only just begun getting back into drawing and I have began on the IOS app, Procreate. I know a few artists on here and part 1 use that program as well, but it’s for sure made me appreciate their work even more and aspire to have my work become even a fraction of how good these artist’s work looks!

Once again, I think this has a great amount of variety in terms of style and subject matter, I hope you discover a new favorite artist yourself! Find their profiles, give them a follow, go onto their websites, buy their prints, support your favorite artists!

Enjoy this list, the names and artwork are in no particular order!

***I do not own any of these artists’ work, and while all work is shared from their individual Instagram profiles, if any of them find this article and wish to have their artwork taken down, please reach out to contact me and I will happily do so!***

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Jen Bartel

Instagram: @heyjenbartel

Website

I discovered this artist by her work illustrating a graphic novel titled “Blackbird,” and I absolutely loved her style and felt like she had a similar style to how I draw. I was happy to learn that this artist uses the program/app Procreate just like I do too! What really draws me in is her use of really bright and vibrant colors that really pop out at you and make so that there’s no way you can’t notice it!

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Marc Simonetti

Instagram: @marc.simonetti

Website

Marc is a concept artist who specializes in environments and has an eye for the little things. As you can see by his work shown above, he is able to capture amazing detail in the smallest of spaces. I guess I could say his work that really captured my attention was his work of the Iron throne image above that’s from George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series that everyone knows as “Game of Thrones.” The throne from the HBO show is iconic, sure, but Marc’s throne is actually a much more accurate portrayal to how the author describes it in the books, plus it’s about five times more intimidating looking!

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Lizzart

Instagram: @lizzart_zardonicz

This artist creates some absolutely gorgeous character design in their work and is a master of fantasy-genre artwork. I discovered this artist thanks to some artwork they did of a Sci-Fi series I’m reading: “Red Rising” by Pierce Brown. It’s a space opera that’s like Greek Mythology + The Hunger Games + Game of Thrones but in space! I definitely recommend giving the books a try if that sounds interesting to you at all!

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Philippe Lozinski

Instagram: @philippezolinski

Philippe creates some visually stunning environment concept art and really has a unique style that shows so much texture and really knows how to drive the eye across the canvas with well placed movement either in the environment or the characters he’s placed within. Some of his work really reminds me of the game “Journey” especially with the cloaked character you see in some of the work on the top of his section. I’m not sure if he’s actually worked on that game, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out he did!

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Rovina Cai

Instagram: @rovinacai

I discovered this australian artist when she illustrated the fourth book in Holly Black’s “The Folk of the Air” series (as you can see by some of the images I selected.) I really dig her enchanting, gothic, fairytale-like drawings that are both whimsical and ominous and creepy, and I’d say you should go grab a copy of that book just to see these images up close for yourself!

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Jo Painter

Instagram: @po_jainter

This artist has commissioned fanart for a few of my favorite book series, so of course it was only a matter of time before I’d notice her work and fall in love with it. She’s made artwork for Sarah J. Maas’s “Crescent City” and “Throne of Glass” series, as well as Jennifer L. Armentrout’s “From Blood and Ash” series that is so so quickly becoming an all-time favorite of mine as well!

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Joon Ahn

Instagram: @joon_ahn_art

Joon is a concept artist out in Los Angeles, and I love all the work he’s done with both environments and characters. He really seems to specialize in either high fantasy or cyber-punk settings and looks like his work should be in video games, and I was first introduced to this artist by their artwork of the knight riding atop a giant eagle as seen above!

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Sam Yang

Instagram: @samdoesarts

Sam Yang seems to really focus on girls who have what I call the “Disney Princess” aesthetic, as in they look like they have very similar facial distinctions to the 3D animated princesses like Rapunzel, Elsa, and Anna. His artwork is so warm, welcoming, and soft with subtle texture infused to make his work stand out on its own. I especially love how he plays with light in his artwork that places his females in a setting like in a car; that’s where I truly think his art shines, no pun intended.

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Dan Mumford

Instagram: @danmumforddraws

Surely you have to recognize Dan’s subject matter in at least one of his pieces I’ve selected above! He adds a ton of detail and heavy outlines to familiar characters and environments in american pop culture history, and while some of it reminds me of some tattoo-like artwork I’ve seen elsewhere, I also appreciate how he also loves to incorporate the creepy factor in his art, or the classic set up of the main character having their back to us as they face out to their setting.

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Yare Yue

Instagram: @yueyare

Amazing environments come with this concept artist, and I’m a big fan of their use of color. I was originally drawn in by their work with the whale swimming through the clouds; the work I seem to love the most is the work of the little kid and his pet cat incorporated into his environment pieces.

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Liang Mark

Instagram: @liangmark

This is an artist where you really need to enlarge the image to enjoy it even more; there’s so much detail work in all of their art! They definitely specialize in dystopian, Sci-Fi settings and I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out they’re a concept artist for the newer Star Wars movies, their art just really reminds of it the franchise, especially the newer movies that have been released later than “The Force Awakens.”

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Sasha Lee Coleman

Instagram: @sashac_art

When an artist gets compared to the great Charlie Bowater, that truly speaks to the artist on how great their digital artwork truly is! I can definitely see an influence or inspiration from Charlie’s style of character design, but Sasha is also a really great artist who enjoys making pieces of characters from some of my favorite books! If you don’t recognize some of the characters above, she’s done amazing artwork of Sarah J. Maas’s “Crescent City,” Holly Black’s “Folk of the Air” series, and even Margaret Rogerson’s “Sorcery of Thorns.”

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Rosie Thorns

Instagram: @rosiethorns88

Okay, I absolutely HAD to show this artist because they do so many different styles of artwork both on canvas or digitally, but what I really want to draw attention to is her papercraft fan art of popular YA Fantasy titles! That’s right, some of this artwork is crafted from paper and brought together like a master scrapbooker. She’s done projects of Sarah J. Maas’s popular “A Court of Thorns and Roses” series with Rhysand and Feyre at Starfall, her “Crescent City” series with Bryce and Dana on top, along with “The Folk of the Air” by Holly Black, “The Invisible Life of Addie Larue,” and Kerri Maniscalco’s “Kingdom of the Wicked.”

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Delaney Januzzi

Instagram: @delaneyjanuzzi

Here’s another noteworthy concept artist who specializes in character design! Their cartoony style reminds me of animated movies and I feel like they’d make some amazing work for Dreamworks animated movies. I especially love that they’re one of the only artists I’ve found who’ve created fanart of Madeline Miller’s debut novel: “The Song of Achilles.” Take a closer look at their artwork of when Patroclus meets Thetis for the first time (sometimes meeting your lover’s parents doesn’t end up working in your favor!)

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Sally Pham

Instagram: @sallteas

Sally is another digital artist I discovered because she’s done a fanart for a lot of my favorite book series! She’s done artwork for Sarah J. Maas’s “A Court of Thorns and Roses,” along with Leigh Bardugo’s “Six of Crows” series, Kerri Maniscalco’s “Kingdom of the Wicked,” plus even Adrienne Young’s “Fable.”

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Vanessa Ninona

Instagram: @nessa_ninona

Vanessa loves ancient Egypt, that much is obvious with her main focus on artwork for a graphic novel she both writes and illustrates called “Golden Brown.” I love her use of colors, especially the complementary use of browns, golds, and yellows mixed with blues to make it really pop!

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Darek Zabrocki

Instagram: @darekzabrocki

Another concept artist I found who specializes in environment design, this is another artist you also need to zoom in on their work to see all the little details he puts into his work. He’s done work for the “Assassin’s Creed” video game franchise, but my favorite work by him has to be either the pirate ships in the bay with the giant windmill, or the one right above of the small party of explorers walking into the ruins with the statue looking down over them like a guardian or an omen.

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Gukkhwa

Instagram: @gukkhwa

This artist does some gorgeous character design artwork with their subject matter focusing on mythological figures. Whether it’s deities of Greek mythology, Egyptian Mythology, Angels or Satan himself out of the christian bible, you have to admit that their work is certainly eye catching!

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Gretel Lusky

Instagram: @gretlusky

Gretel is another artist whose style really reminds me of the “Disney Princess” aesthetic, and that’s not just because she actually posts work of actual Disney princesses either! She switches between digital artwork and good ole watercolor and pastels on paper, but her use of color and the overall style of her work is one that I love, and wanted to showcase on this list to show others and get her name out there!

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Fran Garcés

Instagram: @dibujantenocturno

Fran is an absolute favorite of mine, I never get tired of his distinguishable linework and ultra amount of detail in his work. His love of dragons is what got him into drawing, but he just loves to draw monsters and nightmare imagery to create visually stunning artwork. I love his style so much that I had to buy his book to show my support!

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Gabrielle Ragusi

Instagram: @gabrielleragusi

I initially discovered this artist for their artwork of a series I’d recently started reading and really enjoy: “The Bridge Kingdom” by Danielle Jensen. Upon further looking into this artist, I found they’ve also done artwork for “Harry Potter” by JK Rowling and “Throne of Glass” by Sarah J. Maas and “To Kill a Kingdom” by Alexandria Christo, I really like their style and think they deserve to be as known amongst all the other artists who (thankfully) make stunning fanart of some of our favorite book characters!

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Abhishek Singh

Instagram: @abhiart

Drawing inspiration from his home country of India, this artist paints such awesome artwork of prominent figures from stories and myth. I love the amount of detail he puts into his work, especially with the costume and accessories of the figures as seen above!

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Marissa Clement

Instagram: @marissasketches

I discovered Marissa thanks to her artwork of Jude from Holly Black’s “The Folk of the Air” series along with Leigh Bardugo’s Alina Starkhov from her “Shadow and Bone” trilogy that’s gotten a lot of hype lately thanks to the new Netflix show premiering in late April 2021!

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Kelsey Eng

Instagram: @kelseyeng32

This artist has an adorable, cartoony style that I really enjoy, especially her artwork from what i assume is digital stills from actual episodes in “Game of Thrones.” I especially like the contrast she shows in her piece with Dany and Jon Snow, and even the one with Sansa and Arya Stark, the last of the Stark family line!

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Anato Finnstark

Instagram: @anatofinnstark

What initially introduced me to this artist was their artwork that showcases some truly iconic characters/monsters/figures in Fantasy literature: the darker characters from Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. I instantly fell in love with their work of the Nazgul, or the Ring Wraiths as they’re also known as, but I also adore their art of the Balrog and Sauron as he’s taking on Isildur at the battle at the end of the second age where he fell. I really enjoy their overall dark and creepy vibes in their work and it all truly leaves an impression on the viewer, and someone who I believe is perfect to end this second list on!

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CLICK HERE to see Part 1!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Ruin and Rising (Shadow and Bone #3): by Leigh Bardugo

Publish Date: June 17th, 2014

Number of Pages: 420 Pages

Publisher: Henry Holt

Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

***Warning!!! This review contains spoilers for this title and the previous titles in this trilogy, so continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!!!***

To see my review of book #1 – Shadow and Bone – Click HERE

To see my review of book #2 – Siege and Storm – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast for the trilogy – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 2.75 Stars

Well…. I’ve completed this trilogy finally, and I’ve gotta admit how how down in the dumps I am feeling now. Not because it’s over, but more so that for me it was such a drag through such a large chunk of the story, and how bittersweet that whole ending was! For the first 60% approx, it was once again such a drag much like most of the second book, and it’s not that the ending was horrible and should’ve been changed, but it just leaves you with such a feeling of depression and hopelessness.

I’d read the second book, Siege and Storm, back in late March/early April of 2020 when the Coronavirus Pandemic was in full effect and I’d been put on furlough on work until further notice. The unknown of what was going to happen along with all the craziness that this year alone had filled me with relentless anxiety and a vast array of emotions. I’d noticed my ability to sit down and read a book had become a major challenge. I just couldn’t sit down and concentrate! I was partially wondering if maybe it was a mix of that versus what I was reading at the time—I even couldn’t care enough to read on in V.E. Schwab’s Vengeful—either way, I’d noticed I was in a reading rut. If books by Leigh Bardugo and V.E. Schwab couldn’t hold my attention, certainly there’s something way out of whack going on there…

After reading this third and final installment to her Shadow and Bone Trilogy, I can with much less doubt say it wasn’t me. I struggled to keep my interest all through Siege and Storm and now Ruin and Rising, and part of it was because I’d read her Six of Crows books first, which were much more action-packed, there was many more memorable characters, they had a more original plot, and the author had much more experience under her belt by the time she wrote them. For me, I’ve noticed that it’s not a good idea for me as a reader to go backwards with any author’s books; I have to start with the beginning or I can’t enjoy the earlier work. It’s usually just not as strong of material, and you especially notice that with this trilogy. Compared to her more recent titles, these books just felt so much more “safe” and were with clichés and tropes many YA Fantasy fans are very familiar with because I’m sure Publishers want to play it safe as well by selecting stories filled with criteria that has worked so well in the past. I get it, doesn’t mean I’m entirely happy about it.

I can, however, say that despite this trilogies lack of keeping my interest, Leigh Bardugo did showcase some incredible character work with her main cast of characters, which in this case was Alina Starkov, Mal Oretsev, Nikolai Lantsov, and of course The Darkling. One of the biggest draws of these books was the love pyramid that pertained to these four characters. Each male was presented as a potential love interest to our protagonist, and it’s been one of the biggest debate topics of the whole Grishaverse fandom: which guy should Alina have ended up with?

For Mal, he’s the childhood friend whom Alina has\d been hopelessly in love with for as long as they’ve been together since their days at the orphanage. They both grew up together, and he became more handsome and popular with other cadets of the first army while she more or less stayed the same and felt like she was being pushed further and further into the background, but that all changes when she discovers that she has remarkable abilities and is the first Grisha “Sun Summoner” anyone has seen in a very long time; she may possibly even be the first one ever in existence. Anyways, as the plot thickens and both Nikolai and The Darkling makes their presence and interest known, Mal begins to feel inferior and left behind, which is so ironic how the tables turned there. He begins to be short-tempered with Alina, pushes her away and just wishes everything could go back to “normal” or the way it was before she become a holy saint-like figure to the people of Ravka….

…Well honey, maybe we’d feel sorry for you if you’d actually noticed her before! I personallu didn’t mind Mal throughout, but it’s funny how he’s the character in all the Grishaverse that gets the most criticism and hate from the fandom. Poor Mal… at least he got better in this book, in my opinion that is.

Next there’s Nikolai Lantsov: privateer, Sturmhond, and even Crown Prince to the royal throne. Charming, Daring, and even slightly obnoxious in his abundance of self-confidence; Nikolai is literally like a “golden boy” who any woman would kill to be with, right? WRONG! Alina didn’t fall for his charm, even when he admitted to having actual feelings for her, but she just couldn’t see past the fact that with him came a marriage proposal that may or may not have been purely just as a power-play to secure his spot on the throne and the adoration of his people as well.

The Darkling is a bit more of wild card compared to the other two, plus there’s the nice twist that he’s the villain of the trilogy. I still couldn’t ever really tell if his potential romantic feelings for Alina were 100% genuine, but one thing for certain was that they would’ve made an incredible power couple. Two of the most powerful Grisha to ever exist side by side, either as enemies or lovers or both, and I was definitely behind all the fellow fans shipping them to get together. It added so much to his character to see the scenes between just him and Alina and when he slipped some vulnerability into his demeanor that only she ever saw, those tiny moments said so much! Plus, it was obvious he still loved his mother despite everything, but unfortunately whatever his actual feelings were had to also be twisted and tainted by his dark greed for power, plus his need to control and manipulate everyone including Alina so it all worked out on his terms.

The Darkling and Alina for sure had the most depth to their characters out of everyone in these books. The Darkling is one of those villains that you feel are incredibly justified in his journey for power and all that he’s willing to do in order to get there. I only wish he was showcased even more in the books; it felt like he was hardly there in Siege and Storm and maybe that’s what made it such a slow read for me… I think Leigh Bardugo would’ve had this series be even more successful if she showcased The Darkling more and went even further with the darkness surrounding him. Alina had spectacular growth as the protagonist throughout; she started off as this timid orphan but really came into her own and gained a powerful voice as time went on. She second-guessed herself a lot, she focused on the boys when she maybe shouldn’t have been, she made mistakes; all of which made her such a realistic character in my eyes! She definitely held her own amongst all the other powerful male characters. She faced the constant battle of whether she needed to harden her heart in order to defeat the darkling, but is that the right idea? It was a wonderful theme and inner conflict she faced of whether she needed to lower herself to his level in order to defeat him, but maybe will ultimately discover that’s not the case.

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

The capital has fallen.

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

What I Liked:

  1. The Darkling! I’ve been saying this ever since I started this trilogy, but the Darkling is easily my favorite character besides Nikolai Lantsov taking second place. It’s funny because he’s the villain of the whole dang story, but I’m starting to enjoy those kinds of characters more, especially if they’re incredibly complex and you can actually see where they’re coming from in terms of malicious intentions; those are the best crafted villains in my humble opinion. He started off as just another carbon copy of the “park prince,” broody, bad-boy character trope that is basically another Prince Cardan Greenbriar, Kylo Ren, Jericho Barrons, Rhysand, etc… but as the story developed, even in the first book, The Darkling began to stand apart from them all as more and more was slowly revealed about his background along with his evil plans to take over his world. I only wish we saw more of him or even got to hear from his perspective in these books. I was incredibly heartbroken with the conclusion for how things ended with him, even though it had to be done, but man oh man… my heart aches for him!
  2. Alina’s Development! Alina was a phenomenal protagonist who really grew as this story developed over the three books. I wasn’t really behind her at first because she was simply another cliché orphan-turned-“chosen one” character trope who was demure, shy, timid, and pathetically, secretly in love with her golden boy BFF. As she came into her abilities and has had to make some tough decisions, she’s really become a big contender of the game with her constant inner struggle of how far will she go in order to gain power. Should she become cold and detached like the Darkling, or is it really weakness to show compassion and love for those she cares about? That, along with dealing with quite a few misogynistic older men AND three possible love interests (one of which is her enemy), the girl really becomes a memorable character that anyone can route for! Unfortunately, similar to the Darkling, I was not a fan of how her storyline turned out…
  3. Nikolai’s Transformation! So, anyone who’s a fan of Leigh Bardugo may know by now that Nikolai was originally supposed to die in earlier drafts of these books, but she ended up loving his character so much that she changed her mind, which was a smart decision since he’s one of her best characters of all in all her books, not that I’m biased or anything… anyways, this book was rough on him, and it was certainly an interesting development for him that leaves him with many scars, both external and beneath the surface… funny thing I say that considering he gets his own spin-off duology with the first book titled “King of Scars.” It makes perfect sense considering how things are left with him in this trilogy: totally bittersweet, but at least this character’s storyline was left more open-ended than others in order for there to be further explored!
  4. A Lot More Twists & Gruesome Deaths! Shadow and Bone was littered with cliché YA Fantasy tropes, Siege & Storm was just boring for me, but Ruin & Rising was filled with more plot twists and absolutely disturbing scenes of torture and death that actually made me happy to read, because it’s THIS stuff is what makes Leigh Bardugo stand out from other authors! She’s got a dark and twisty mind—I’m obsessed with it—and you get to see more of it in this book than the others. The deaths are absolutely brutalistic and somewhat disturbing, and it was great to start to see what I know the author excels at when the previous two books felt too “safe” to what I’m used to from her. Remember; I’ve read the Six of Crows books, and even Ninth House before I started reading this trilogy.
  5. Mal Gets Better In This Book! I will continue until the day I am no longer on this planet to say that I am a part of the fandom that actually likes Mal. He gets so much hate from the Grishaverse fandom, even more so than any villain she’s crafted, and I get where it comes from, I do… But I also see the growth he goes through and find it incredibly endearing about him too. He had to kind of hit his own sort of rock bottom in order to rise back up, and I believe his rock bottom was him in the later scenes of Siege and Storm. He was stuck in the past and wanted things to go back to the way they were with how the dynamic worked with him and Alina in his favor, and he somewhat had a temper tantrum at how that wouldn’t happen, plus I will admit that the pedestal Alina put him on absolutely crumbled when compared to The Darkling and Nikolai Lantsov becoming potential love interests and major competition. He couldn’t handle it, but I still think he redeemed himself a little bit in this book with how he handled everything, and you further see how all major decisions he makes is because of his devotion to Alina. There’s no denying he cared about her, whether you believe he really had romantic feelings since the beginning and just didn’t do anything about it until now.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. I Was So Bored…Similar to what was the entirety of Siege and Storm, the first half of this book was so incredibly hard to get through because I just had such low interest in most of what was happening. There were too many characters by this point that I just didn’t really care about, the storyline was just too methodically slow for me, and it was just a huge drag. Once more plot twists occured and there were some brutal deaths that made the book feel more like what I expect from the author, then it got a little better at least!
  2. I Wish The Darkling Showed Up More…I’m only really saying this because I may be biased, but I think these books would’ve been much more successful if The Darkling was a more central character, or at least showed up more than he a;ready did. Maybe that was part of the allure of him, but he’s such a marvelous, complex character and there was so much potential for these books to get darker and more sinister like I know Leigh Bardugo is able to do, but I get that these were her first published books so she wasn’t able to be as artistically free as she is now.
  3. The Surprise Twist with Mal…After its reveal and thinking back about certain scenes that are pointed out, this wasn’t something entirely out of left field that the author slipped in for pure shock value, but was so subtle in how the clues were placed throughout that only a select bunch of readers would’ve caught the foreshadowing. Plus, with the backstory of how Morozova brought his daughter back to life with his merzost power, he never ended up finding the firebird because his power was used up by then. Without giving too much else away, it certainly was explained well enough to make sense, I was still just….mehh about it either way. I found the backstory with Morozova the much more interesting aspect about it.
  4. That Bittersweet Ending…I can say that with how everything concluded certainly made sense, I guess… I don’t know, I was just kind of disappointed with most of it even though the harsh reality is that there’s really nothing that would’ve made a better ending for everyone. My heart breaks for The Darkling, and of course I wish things could’ve ended up differently, but as we’ve seen with him with all that he’s done and how he operates, he’d reached the point of no return/redemption. Alina and Mal also had a fitting ending for them, I guess… I’m not personally a fan, but I guess it works for them and what they wanted in the end. Nikolai probably had the best conclusion even though his was more open-ended, but it helps that I know he has his own set of books that take place later on past Six of Crows.

Conclusion:

Overall, it was an okay-on the verge of liking it for me with how this trilogy ended up. I didn’t enjoy these books as much as Six of Crows, but part of me knew that’d be the case because I know what kind of reader I am, and I’m just someone that will hardly ever enjoy an author’s earlier work when I’ve read something that was published later on in their career first. I just notice more smaller things, like their writing maybe isn’t as captivating and/or less experienced, plus it feels more “safe” when I know their later work has much more creative freedom and is much more complex. I just can’t go backwards with author’s work, you know?

Like I said, I knew this going in that I was potentially not going to enjoy this trilogy as much, but I was so disappointed in how it was so hard to read a set of books by Leigh Bardugo—who with the Six of Crows books alone had her become one of my favorite authors—and NOT love it. By SoC, she’s a much more established author and is allowed to go further with her storylines, her characters, and the overall mood of her content. Shadow and Bone was just filled with too many familiar tropes we’ve seen everywhere in YA Fantasy, while Six of Crows has a much more diverse cast, and went so much further in terms of the mental health and inner turmoil the characters all faced; it’s just so weird how a spin-off might be better than the original series!

I still recommend these books for anyone who loves YA Fantasy with a strong female lead. I know my review may seem like I’m less than thrilled about them than I’d hoped, but when compared to the many other titles that are out there within the genre, Leigh’s stories are much stronger and more memorable than, say… The Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard. Not to knock that series, but in my opinion, Bardugo just creates a better/deeper/richer story. At least with the many clichés that fill up the first book, she does veer away in big ways as the story develops.

Now that I have this trilogy under my belt, I can now move forward with the other Grishaverse stories that I still haven’t touched, plus be more prepared for the eventual, much anticipated release of the upcoming Netflix show premiering in fall/winter of 2020! Alina’s storyline is going to be a central storyline, so I had to read the Shadow and Bone trilogy before for context. I may even reread the Six of Crows duology too and maybe catch a lot more references and details that went over my head the first time I read them, and there’s even King of Scars, the next installment of the Grishaverse, and the first book in the Nikolai duology! I love that Leigh is continuing more stories within this rich and detailed world she’s created for us, and I always look forward to seeing what she comes up with next!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fancasts/Dreamcasts

My Fancast/Dreamcast: The Shadow and Bone Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

Image courtesy of Instagram profile: @queen_of_books_and_sleep

Leigh Bardugo is one of the my favorite authors around even from just reading her Six of Crows duology, but once I’d learned that they were actually a spin-off from this trilogy that she’d written before, I of course HAD to check them out too because let’s be honest: there are a few instances where there was obviously information referenced that I missed by not reading them prior. Whether it was because of a certain character’s surprise appearance, a past event mentioned, or more background information on the Grisha in general, I could tell I was missing some vital information.

While I enjoyed Six of Crows much more than this trilogy for multiple reasons, I can still say that the Shadow and Bone trilogy is not to be skipped over! There are some very memorable characters and plenty of twists and turns that you’d expect from Leigh Bardugo’s mind even if you’re like me and read these books out of order!

Even though there’s a Netflix show out with official castings, I still had my own version of the cast list of who I thought would play these characters in my head. Some of my choices below are my own, but I can also admit there’s a few selections from the actual show I agreed with that were mixed in with the bunch to add a little variety. See for yourself what you think!

Here’s a link below to my official Fancast/Dreamcast of the Six of Crows duology for those interested:

Click HERE to see my Six of Crows Fancast/Dreamcast

The Blurb of Shadow and Bone:

Soldier

Summoner.

Saint. 

Orphaned and expendable, Alina Starkov is a soldier who knows she may not survive her first trek across the Shadow Fold—a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. But when her regiment is attacked, Alina unleashes dormant magic not even she knew she possessed.

Now Alina will enter a lavish world of royalty and intrigue as she trains with the Grisha, her country’s magical military elite—and falls under the spell of their notorious leader, the Darkling. He believes Alina can summon a force capable of destroying the Shadow Fold and reuniting their war-ravaged country, but only if she can master her untamed gift.

As the threat to the kingdom mounts and Alina unlocks the secrets of her past, she will make a dangerous discovery that could threaten all she loves and the very future of a nation.

Welcome to Ravka . . . a world of science and superstition where nothing is what it seems…

To see my review of book #1 – Shadow and Bone – Click HERE!

To see my review of book #2 – Siege and Storm – Click HERE!

To see my review of book #3 – Ruin and Rising – Click HERE!

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Here’s my official Fancast/Dreamcast:

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Zoya Nazyalensky: Shay Mitchell

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My first choice for this character was Megan Fox, which I had no problem with except for when I later learned that Zoya is actually a person of color. I mean, she was the token “mean girl” in the first book, and Leigh described her pretty much as being stupid hot, so c’mon, Megan Fox is an obvious choice for me! Shay is also such a beautiful woman! Her Filipino, Scottish, and Irish descent makes her a much more accurate choice.

Genya Safin: Miguelle Landry

Image courtesy of the model’s Instagram Profile

This Instagram model is like my go to face for whenever a book calls for a gorgeous redhead, so sorry not sorry, but you’re gonna see her on a few of my fancasts *shrugs*.

David Kostyk: Luke Pasqualino

Image courtesy of fault-magazine.com

I don’t know much about him as an actor; he was on Skins not that I ever watched it, but he’s an actual casting for the part on the Netflix show, so I can roll with this casting choice!

Baghra Morozova: Zoë Wanamaker

Image courtesy of theguardian.com

She is another actual casting from the Netflix show, but most of you may or may not recognize her from another popular YA Fantasy series? No? Here’s a hint: she was the broom flying instructor at a certain school for young witches and wizards!

Nikolai Lantsov: Lucas Bloms

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A gorgeous male-model to play a gorgeous prince? Need I say more?

Botkin Yul-Erdene: Daniel Dae-Kim

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Daniel may seem like a cliché go to character for these types of roles, but I can’t help but keep that way of thinking with him playing the role of Alina’s combat instructor at the small palace. I just think he’d make an excellent tutor!

Ivan: Simon Sears

Image courtesy of the actor’s IMDB profile

He’s another actual casting choice for the Netflix show, and he’s not really described as well as I’d hoped in the books, so I’m happy to give my blessing for this choice! He looks rugged and rough around the edges, just like I’d imagined what one of the Darkling’s closest soldier’s would look like.

Fedyor Kaminksy: Julian Kostov

Image courtesy of the actor’s Instagram profile

Julian is actually casted to play this character for the show, so I thought I’d share him too and say I support this choice! I remember I liked Fedyor whenever he made an appearance in the books, sure he wasn’t afraid to viciously kill anyone who stood against him, but at least he killed a Fjerdan in order to protect Alina, right? Right…

Harshaw: Andrew Garfield

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Harshaw is described as being tall and gangly with red hair, so for some reason I thought of Andrew Garfield. Not sure why; Harshaw’s a wackjob who talks to his cat too much and probably an arsonist who just also happens to be an inferni…so yeah…Most of you would recognize Andrew from The Amazing Spider-Man movies with Emma Stone, and The Social Network.

Marie: Nathalie Kelley

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Marie was a conflicting character throughout the books…Sure, she tried to befriend Alina right away when the Sun Summoner first appeared at the small palace, but she was totally two-faced to Zoya and elitist with Genya, and flipped sides when her boyfriend, Sergei, spoke out against Alina in Siege and Storm. I just found her really catty, so I thought Nathalie, who’s been in The Vampire Diaries, and Dynasty (both CW shows), I thought she’d play the part well!

Nadia Zhabin: Gabrielle Brooks

Image courtesy of the actress’s IMDB Profile

Nadia is pretty much the same as Marie up above, but doesn’t really stick up for herself. Gabrielle is another actual casting choice for the show, which I just want to point out is great that they switched up her look because the books described her as kind of a mousy little blonde, so I’m happy with how Leigh wanted to make it a point to try and add more diversity amongst the cast!

Tamar Kir-Bataar: Lana Condor

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I’m surprised it doesn’t seem like Tamar and her twin brother are going to be in the Netflix show! Like, they’re not even listed on the Netflix show’s IMDB page (check it out HERE)…Whatever I guess, their loss because she’s a badass! Lana may look small and fragile like she kind of is in the All the Boy’s I’ve Met Before Netflix movies, but check out other films she’s been in, and it’s obvious she can hold her own in more action-packed flicks.

Tolya Kir-Bataar: Ross Butler

Image courtesy of the actor’s IMDB profile

Ross is on Netflix’s adaptation of 13 Reasons Why and DC’s “Shazam,” and he’s a tall guy who can also pull off the stoic, “tough guy” persona that I pictured Tolya constantly showed whenever he made an appearance. I’m still upset that him and his sister didn’t make it into the Netflix show apparently…

Ana Kuya: Amanda Donohue

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Amanda just gives me more of how I pictured the owner of the orphanage where Alina and Mal grew up than who they casted for the show! I’m sure the actual actress will still do a great job though!

The Apparat: David Bradley

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David Bradley is just so good at playing creepy, despicable old men in Fantasy settings! He was Argus Filch in the Harry Potter films and Walder Frey in Game of Thrones, and the Apparat gave me some weird vibes, so I immediately thought of David Bradley to play him.

Sergei Beznikov: Jack Falahee

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Sergei was another one of those really conflicting characters in the books; I didn’t really have the greatest opinion of him, especially when he tries to oppose Alina in trying to take charge of the second army, but I felt for him at the end of Siege of Storm and what happened to him…there’s more to it, but I won’t spoil it! I loved Jack in How to Get Away with Murder, and thought he’d be a great choice!

Alina Starkov: Jessica Mei Li

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Here’s another actual casting off the Netflix show, and I for one am happy with how Leigh made it more of a point to make the cast more diverse with more POC actors! She felt bad about how whitewashed she made the books, apologized, and has been making it a point to not do that ever again. Kudos to her, and I can’t wait to see how Jessica portrays our main protagonist of the Shadow and Bone trilogy!

Mal Oretsev: Christian Hogue

Image courtesy of the model’s Instagram profile

So, Mal gives me the whole “Golden Boy, Big Man on Campus, Star Quarterback, Homecoming King” kind of guy that we see all over YA fiction, but of course, this particular time in a Fantasy setting. Christian is an Instagram model I’ve known about for some time, and he’s just who came to mind for me when I pictured Alina’s childhood friend-turn-lover.

The Darkling: Nick Ayler

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I’d also casted Nick Ayler as my Magnus Damora in the Falling Kingdoms series by Morgan Rhodes, and I will admit him and the Darkling have some similarities in their aesthetics…they’re both the broody, dark haired bad boy who the golden, innocent protagonist has mixed feelings for…so why not have Nick play my favorite character in the whole trilogy. Besides being my favorite character, you’ve outta admit he’s got the coolest nicknames!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Siege and Storm (Shadow and Bone Trilogy #2): by Leigh Bardugo

Publish Date: June 4th, 2013
Number of Pages: 435 Pages
Publisher: Square Fish
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

***Warning! This book contains spoilers for the first book in the series, so continue reading at your own risk. You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review for book #1 – Shadow and Bone – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast of the trilogy – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 2.5 Stars

So I’m not sure if this would make any sense, but how does a sequel become so much better than the previous book: the plot gets more intense and impressive, the characters all have great development, and is just more original and creative in general….BUT you didn’t like the book any more than how you we’re lukewarm than the first one? I don’t get it; this book had everything it needed to become a much more entertaining read, but I still found myself bored and struggling to finish it.

One main reason I think this was the case is that I tried to read Siege and Storm during the pandemic for COVID-19, and I hate to admit how something I love to do: reading — is harder to do because somehow it’s a struggle to sit down and concentrate on what I’m reading… I’ve already dropped three books within the last month because I just couldn’t bring myself to care enough to keep reading. Maybe I’ll come back to them later on, but for now, they’re on my DNF shelf.

Overall, while I did mainly enjoy this sequel to Shadow and Bone, maybe it was the way the world is right now that kept me from fully enjoying it like I could’ve. I really liked the male characters like Nikolai Lantsov and the Darkling, and how the plot got so much thicker with many great developments. I was really torn about both Alina and Mal as characters; I get where they’re coming from with what annoys me about them, but they still bug me about certain things they do and the way they are. I didn’t enjoy the midpoint of the story, and it was there that I really struggled to keep wanting to read. I just found it so immensely boring, and believe me, it hurts right in the chest to say something like that about a Leigh Bardugo novel. The Six of Crows is still such a favorite of mine, but those came later than this original trilogy, and going backwards with any author’s titles always ends on a bad note for me.

When I say boring, I think Goodreads reviewer Elise (TheBookishActress) said it best: the narrative of this book won’t allow it to get any darker than it already is. It’s filled with morally grey characters, and how EVERYONE makes evil decisions in order to gain an advantage over all the other key players in the battle for power. Some are less evil than others, but the point is, it could’ve played on the idea of people doing evil things for different reasons and giving us some much more interesting character development and raise a bunch of interesting questions about human nature, but it was limited by what the YA market was looking for at the time. It gets close to crossing the line, but still stays safely in it’s lane, and knowing Leigh Bardugo has more freedom to go farther with it in her later books turns me off to these books more, not allowing me to enjoy them than if I were to have read them before Six of Crows.

I will say that Nikolai Lantsov and The Darkling are easily the best characters to come out of these books so far; they’re possibly the best part of these books period

What It’s About:

I know the truth in your heart. The loneliness. The growing knowledge of your own difference. The ache of it.”

– Leigh Bardugo, “Siege and Storm”

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka.

But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

There is no ordinary life for people like you and me.”

– Leigh Bardugo, “Siege and Storm”

What I Liked:

  1. Much Less Tropey Than The First Book! One of my biggest complaints of Shadow and Bone was how there were so many clichés used: the mary sue character who thinks she’s plain and boring yet has more than one love interest, the magical school she travels to in order to train, the hot mean girl, the chosen one, etc. Sure, it may not have been so cliché back when it was first written, but hasn’t aged as well into 2020. This book felt much more original and unique in comparison, the plot has become bigger, the stakes have been raised, the writing continues to improve, and their is some major character development!
  2. Nikolai Lantsov! Another book boyfriend to add to the (large) growing list! He turned out to be an amazing character throughout the course of this book; he was so charming, passionate, suave, and witty. The pirate—or privateer as he prefers to be called—made the book more fun to read, and his whole arc made the story feel so much more unique and creative from the author. Personally, I wouldn’t mind in the slightest if Alina ended up with him in the end.
  3. The Darkling! He continues to excel at being quite frankly one of the most interesting villains I’ve read in a long time, along with being one of my favorite characters in the whole Grishaverse. There’s hints that suggest he’s still human underneath the dark cloak of being the black heretic, and you can tell there’s an interesting inner battle happening there. Who knows what’ll happen there?
  4. The Roles Have Reversed! So I thought it was kind of interesting that Mal and Alina kind of switched places in this book when compared to Shadow and Bone: now Alina is the desired one, the popular one, the one with more influence while Mal fears he’s being left behind. Some could even say it’s poetic justice for Mal, who couldn’t see how great he had it before and now is fully realizing what he’s lost since the beginning of the whole story.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Really Boring Midpoint…I’m not going to lie, even though it breaks my heart to say this about a Leigh Bardugo novel, but I found the midpoint of this book to be just oh so achingly boring! Little tidbits of excitement were tossed in here and there, but for the most part, I was actually struggling to get through it! Take in mind there are several reasons on my part as the reader as to why this may be: 1. I started out with the Six of Crows books, which arguably are much better written, and going backwards with an author’s books never works out in my favor and 2. I read this is 2020 when the world is in the middle of a flippin’ pandemic! I don’t know about you, but I’m finding it difficult to stick with reading an actual book right now. Like, I’m not able to fully concentrate on what I’m reading because I’m just so stir-crazy if that makes any sense? Maybe I’ll think differently when I reread this book at a different time?
  2. Alina Starkov…Now, this one is split down the middle because I do still like Alina as a character; I felt like she’s had a great development as a character in this book especially. My problem with her is that she still sticks to some bad habits that she really just needs to break apart from. I love that she’s starting to gain some confidence in her abilities and now is starting to realize that her powers are really special and that yeah…she’s the chosen one to change the course of history. Everything that’s made her more interesting is because of the Darkling and the influence he’s had on her through these books so far. I hate to say it, because I’m also torn about Mal, but the thing she needs to stop doing is holding onto her past because she’s still too influenced by Mal and what decisions she makes that would make him happy. I get it: she’s a teenage girl in love for the first time, but lets maybe worry about the future of the world instead of worrying about which boy you should kiss next, yes? Katniss Everdeen didn’t have a problem with this.
  3. Mal…Arguably one of the most disliked characters in the book, which is sad considering I feel like that’s not the intent the author had for him at all. Many feel like he’s dragging Alina down, being petty and moody because of how things have changed since they were both pretty much foot-soldiers of the first army. To a degree, I can agree with that. While I do admire that the two of them are willing to sacrifice so much in order to make the other one happy, I feel like Mal is going down the same route as Chaol Westfall did in the Throne of Glass series, and only loves certain parts of Alina by this point. Obviously, I mean the non-grisha parts, and he’s upset at how things have changed and they’re out of his control, he’s getting left behind for men like Nikolai Lantsov and the Darkling, and he just wishes things could go back to the way they were before: back to “normal.” I want to like him, I really do, but I will wait until I read the final book, Ruin Rising, before I make my final decision on him.

Conclusion:

Siege and Storm was a much better written, an all around better novel than the previously written book in this trilogy, but I was disappointed to say that it still somehow didn’t draw me in, but that may be the cause of the pandemic were in, and how that’s affected my ability to be able to sit and concentrate on reading in general. I definitely plan to reread this later when things get back to normal to see if my opinion changes at all.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Shadow and Bone (Shadow and Bone Trilogy #1): by Leigh Bardugo

Publish Date: June 2017 (Originally Published June 5th, 2012)
Number of Pages: 358 Pages
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast for the trilogy – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

The world is going to know who Leigh Bardugo is as an author, I’m saying that with 100% confidence. She’s already pretty well known amongst avid readers like myself for her YA fantasy books and even her first adult fantasy novel that released back in October 2019, but ever since the announcement of a Grishaverse show coming to Netflix, arguably the most popular streaming service in the world, I was filled with euphoric glee at thinking yet another author I know and love will also become globally known.

I’d learned about Leigh Bardugo initially through her Six of Crows duology, a two-part spin-off from the original Shadow and Bone trilogy about six outcasts who must pull of the heist of the century in order to stop a deadly drug from causing ultimate chaos, and while they throw you right into the middle of the world she’d created without too much time to get too much footing or catch yourself, those books had still resonated so deeply with me based on her expertly crafted plot, her personable and relatable characters, and how well the author writes about mental illness and characters with disabilities. Each character has a richly drawn out tragic backstory that makes you feel like you really know them on a personal level. Romance also doesn’t overtake the main storyline, and has truly one of the most diverse casts of characters a reader will ever meet!

I then turned towards her first set of books and begun reading Shadow and Bone even before the Netflix announcement. Sometimes people like going backyards in terms of a writer’s work, and I’m learning I’m actually not one of those people…I tend to notice things like their craft not being as strong, and it distracts me from enjoying the story. I can’t help it, but it’s just the way I am, not going to apologize for it.

While I enjoyed this book, I did notice a lot more parts of this story that I didn’t like when compared to her later books. It was a strong story for sure, but I noticed there were a lot of clichés that you see in plenty more YA Fantasy titles, which was disappointing. I know for the market of traditional publishing, the companies like to try and have all these aspects included in titles in order to up it’s marketability, but I’ll go more into those clichés later in my review.

Starting with Six of Crows didn’t deter me from too much of her books, they stand by themselves pretty well, but there are references made towards these earlier books for sure that went over my head, and there wasn’t as much told about the Grisha (beings with special abilities) as I’d hoped. Shadow and Bone and it’s two sequels will help fill that void and help readers have a better overall understanding!

What It’s About:

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Map of Ravka, aka: “The World of the Grisha”

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

What I Liked:

  1. The Darkling! He is by far the best character in the whole trilogy so far! I love those moody, brooding, dark demeanor male characters that Leigh Bardugo seems to have in all her books like Kaz Brekker in Six of Crows and Daniel Arlington in Ninth House. The Darkling is the leader of the second army, aka the army of the Grisha. When he learns about Alina and her unique powers with the Unsea and fighting off those wickedly horrendous Volcra, he has her brought to him to be brought to the palace in order to train and help hone in on her craft. He has an air of mystery to him throughout, but once you get past a certain point of the novel, his whole character becomes even more interesting and suddenly I’ve got goosebumps on my skin whenever he appears on the page!
  2. The Russian Influence! Not a whole lot of Fantasy-genre literature in general seems to lean towards Russia as a backdrop or inspiration for their setting! I admit, my only connection to the land of Putin was the beautifully done animated Anastasia movie…so yes, it’s abysmal. The setting of Ravka has some heavy Russian influence which makes these books already stand out more than a lot of the other titles out there. For those looking for something that doesn’t look out of medieval-era Europe or grimmdark Game of Thrones, definitely consider these books!
  3. The Unpredictable Plot! I’m not going to lie, but there were some twists that I truly hadn’t seen coming! It was fun to know the author could surprise me and make the story feel so much more exciting because I didn’t know what to expect to happen next!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. This Is WAY Too Tropey…It honestly felt like I was almost reading from a different author with all the usual YA clichés that this book was filled with! Six of Crows felt like such a more unique and original idea, so I was surprised at what I read in Shadow and Bone! Here we go with the list: We have the “chosen one” trope with Alina (the idea that the main character is the special someone who has extraordinary power to save the world in some way), and she’s also an orphan to add on top of it…Okay Harry Potter…We have it where she goes to an institute/school-like setting to practice her powers, even if it’s a palace…There’s Zoya, who’s the stunningly gorgeous token mean girl who instantly dislikes Alina because she’s a threat and steals her HBIC thunder amongst the other Grisha training…There’s the initial persona of the Darkling, who’s the dark and brooding bad boy who the “innocent and naive” heroine–Alina–can’t help but be attracted to…There’s the love triangle that kind of forms between Alina, Mal and the Darkling (Who will she end up with?!)…Like I said, these are all ideas and concepts we’ve seen before in PLENTY of other YA titles.
  2. He’s Just Not That Into You…I was unattracted to the idea of how Alina was in love with her childhood best-friend, Mal, who was completely clueless her feelings. Over the years, they’d drifted apart because he’d gotten hot, got new friends, and become popular as she’d stayed behind…At a certain point, you just ask her “Girl…what do you see in him?” Personally, I’m way more into the Darkling, but I’m also single, so there’s that…

Conclusion:

Overall, this was a fun beginning to the OG trilogy that started it all for Leigh Bardugo and her Grishaverse! It gives a much more detailed look into the Grisha specifically when compared to Six of Crows, and should be read first for those that like chronological order, hell, even those that prefer publication order too!

While I was disappointed in the amount of clichés that appeared in this first of three books, my love and utter adoration for SoC won’t allow me to write these books off and I for sure plan to keep going on to see what happens next. Unfortunately, since I’d read SoC first, I’m aware of a HUGE spoiler to the Shadow and Bone trilogy, but I’m someone who can enjoy the journey even if I know what ends up happening at the destination.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell